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This Is Elvis

Philip Norman
Bill Kenwright Ltd
Leeds Grand Theatre

Steve Michaels (Elvis Presley) Credit: Pamela Raith

In a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction (1994), Uma Thurman’s coke-snorting moll suggests that “there are only two kinds of people in the world: Beatles people and Elvis people”. Now, I’m definitely a Beatles man, but This Is Elvis puts forward a compelling case for the man affectionately known as “the Pelvis”.

The production kicks off at NBC studios in 1968, with Elvis (Steve Michaels) just about to perform a one-off TV special. At this point in time, Elvis had not performed a live concert in seven years and he was in danger of being fully eclipsed by the Fab Four. However, the incredible success of the show—which featured such indelible hits as “Heartbreak Hotel”, “All Shook Up” and “Love Me Tender”—would reignite his career, leading to a four-week residency at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

The second half of This Is Elvis recreates the singer’s iconic Vegas show, beginning with a stirring piece of classical music from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Strauss, and climaxing with “Jailhouse Rock”.

Before watching the production, I was under the impression that it would devote a substantial chunk of its running time to dramatising Elvis’s life in the late ‘sixties. However, this is not quite the case. Sure, there are a few dramatic scenes in the first half which touch upon familiar parts of Elvis’s biography—his complicated relationship with his mentor/manager, his disappointing marriage and his escalating drug addiction—but these vignettes are weighed down by clunky exposition, offering little fresh insight into the singer or the people surrounding him.

The real purpose of This Is Elvis is to give audiences the chance to watch a talented Elvis impersonator perform with a tight-knit band, and in this respect the production is a roaring success.

Canadian-born Steve Michaels is superb as Elvis. Not only does he look the part, but his voice and physical gestures are frankly uncanny. In an evening full of highlights, I was particularly impressed by his heartfelt rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and his thrusting performance of “Suspicious Minds”.

However, a talented ensemble of singers and musicians means that this is more than just a one-man show. Michaels is given soulful support by Chevone Stewart, Katrina May and Misha Malcolm, who sing wonderfully as the Sweet Inspirations, and his band are on top form throughout the show.

The evening’s musical force is greatly enhanced by Andy Walmsley’s glitzy set design, which recreates the neon decadence of Las Vegas.

The idea of tribute acts has never really appealed to me in the past, but that doesn’t alter the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed This Is Elvis and would happily go again.

Reviewer: James Ballands